7 Fascinating Facts About the Second World War That You Might Not Know

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Soldiers jumping off of their boat and marching towards Omaha Beach on D-Day during the Second World War
“Into the Jaws of Death” taken on D-Day, 6 June 1944. National Archives // Public Domain

The Second World War took place between the years 1939-1945 and was an international war between two opposing military alliances known as the Allies and the Axis. The Allies were made up of several counties, with the ‘big four’ being the Soviet Union, China, Britain, and the USA. The Axis was led by Hitler and the Nazi Party of Germany, with Italy and Japan as its allies. Due to the length of the war and how widespread it was, there is a lot to study for the Second World War, here are just a few interesting facts about the Second World War. 

1. The cost of the war was greater than any other in history.

It is estimated that the war cost the US $4 trillion, with the overall cost to the governments involved being estimated at $1,000,000,000,000. Of course, the biggest cost in war is the death which comes with it, which is estimated at being between 50 and 70 million people, with 80% of these deaths coming from China, Germany, Poland, and Russia, and half of these casualties were civilians. Civilians were often killed on their home front, some by bombs, some by invasion, and in the case of the USSR, due to a terrible famine which cost the lives of many. There was also the Holocaust, in which the Nazis killed millions of Jewish people and other minority groups living in Germany and the countries they occupied. Thus, the Second World War is known as the most destructive war in all history as it cost more money, damaged more property, and killed more people than any other war.

Swastika carved into the Snoldelev Stone from the 9th century. It was used over a thousand years before Nazi Germany existed.
The swastika used by Nazi Germany had historical relevance before them. Here it is seen on the Snoldelev Stone dated to the 9th Century. Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

2. There was historical inspiration behind the key features of the Nazi party. 

The Nazi symbols, the salute and the swastika, are very recognisable. But these symbols actually had previous historical relevance. 

The swastika is a geometric design that is seen in several different cultures, including the Greeks, Native Americans, and Hindu cultures. It usually meant different things but was most commonly associated with peace, for example in Sanskrit it was a symbol of fertility and good fortune. 

Hitler was even inspired by the history of Germany in naming the Nazi reign over Germany the ‘Third Reich’. This is because the First Reich was from 962 to 1806 when Germany was part of the Holy Roman Empire, the Second Reich was from 1871 to 1918 when it was the German Republic. Then before Hitler Germany was called the Weimar Republic after the loss of the First World War up until 1933.

3. The official dates of the Second World War are debated.

Although most historians agree that the Second World War began with Hitler’s first sign of aggression against Poland on September 1st, 1939, others have debated its official starting date. Some historians have referenced Japanese aggressive movements as early as 1931 as what should be considered the starting date, seeing as Japan was a German ally. Some scholars believe that the Second World War was just a continuation of the First World War, and the break was always intended to allow Britain and France to be able to rebuild their forces. Moreover, Japan and Russia never formally declared an end of hostilities against each other, so did the war technically ever end for them?

A shopkeeper is cancelling a ration book during World War 2.
A Shopkeeper canceling the coupons in a British Housewife’s ration book for tea, sugar, cooking fats, and bacon she is allowed for one week, April 1943. Library of Congress // Public Domain

4. Rations were different for each country, both on the front line and on the home front.

Britain had the highest levels of rations on the home front than any other country in Europe. In some places, rationing was more difficult, for example, in parts of France which were occupied by Germany and in Russia where there was famine. In Britain, people were still able to get access to meat, cheese, milk, eggs, and sugar in their rations, and if they grew their own food, a lot of British people were able to sustain a good diet. 

There were also rations on the front lines, with the most interesting one being toilet paper! American soldiers were rationed 22 squares of toilet paper every day, but British soldiers were only allowed 3.

5. Spies were very important in winning the war.

Britain’s MI5 had a Double Cross system made up of British spies who went to Axis countries, generally, Germany, offering their services as a spy, making them double agents. These agents convinced the Germans of many lies to benefit the British war, such as Eddie Chapman who told the Germans they were hitting London with their bombs when in reality they were missing by several miles! They were also beneficial as they gave false information to the Germans about the location of the D-Day landings and other invasions to German territory. Unfortunately for Germany, their agents must not have been as convincing as all of them surrendered or were apprehended, apart from one who committed suicide.

Lancaster bomber dropping a Grand Slam bomb on the railway viaduct in Arnsberg, Germany, March 1945. Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

6. The number of bombs dropped during the war was insane. To this date, some bombs are still discovered which haven’t gone off!

The Allies alone dropped 3.4 million tons of bombs, an average of 27,700 tons per month between 1939 and 1945. Many of the bombs dropped onto German soil did not go off and to this day more than 2,000 tons of unexploded munitions are discovered in Germany. Due to this, any time there is any building work or excavations to be done, the land must be searched to ensure there are no bombs left which could still explode! In recent years, there have been a few occasions where large areas of people have had to evacuate their homes due to the discovery of a bomb. For example in 2011, 45,000 people were evacuated when a drought revealed a Second World War explosive device lying on the bed of the Rhine in the middle of Koblenz.

7. Japan had an attack planned on the USA which may have been equally as devastating as the atomic bombs the USA dropped on Japan.

The dropping of the atomic bombs was seen as a dramatic but necessary move in order to force Japan to surrender the war. However, what is less known is that Japan had similar plans to target the USA with a devastating attack known as ‘Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night.’ This plan would see Japanese submarines transport jets to the coast of California, where they would fly over at night, releasing plague-infected fleas. However, the attack was scheduled for the 22nd of September 1945, so before this plan could take place, the bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in early August, leading to the Japanese surrender on the 15th of August.

Another little known fact about this is that a third atomic bomb was ready to be dropped on Japan, with this one landing on Tokyo.

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